The presence of an indomitable Altior as the two-mile chasing kingpin has forced the owners and trainers of many National Hunt racehorses to think about alternative targets.
With the Nicky Henderson trained star odds-on to retain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown, the main beneficiary of others swerving that race is the 2m 5f Ryanair Chase on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival. Who are the leading contenders for that this year as a result?
Having twice found Altior seven lengths too good at this meeting in the past, Min has proved very popular in the ante-post Ryanair betting. The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old has won Grade 1 races on both his starts this season.
The first of those was the 2m 4f John Durkan at Punchestown on reappearance. That event is often targeted by stayers on route to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but on good ground, Min produced and there looks more to come from him over intermediate trips.
He has also landed the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown for the second year in a row dropping back down to 2m. Min has a Ryanair quote of 4/1 favourite with Betfair if he goes back up in trip.
Ruth Jefferson and late father Malcolm have always minded Waiting Patiently, so he’s missed the last two Cheltenham Festivals. If he does finally go to the big meeting, then the Ryanair is his only entry.
The trip certainly suits this eight-year-old and on his runs in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase in each of the last two seasons he would have a strong chance. That’s why Waiting Patiently is 9/1 for Ryanair glory and among Cheltenham Festival tips from Betting.Betfair if lining up this year.
British champion jumps trainer Henderson has a prolific Grade 2 winner in Top Notch who ideally wants beween two-and-a-half and three miles. The Ryanair is the only event at the Cheltenham Festival that fits the bill.
This eight-year-old Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned gelding has won a Grade 1 before, the Scilly Isles at Sandown as a novice. Top Notch seems to post better form on right-handed tracks, but Cheltenham is an anti-clockwise course. He’s still a leading British contender for Ryanair Chase success though at 8/1.
Henry De Bromhead won this race 12 months ago with Balko Des Flos, but he’s never reproduced that form since. The stable’s leading contender in this Ryanair Chase renewal is Monalee, a horse whose optimum distance is also probably between 2m 4f and 3m.
For evidence of that, see his victory in the 2m 5f Flogas Novice Chase at the 2018 Dublin Racing Festival. Monalee, also an eight-year-old, has since chased home Presenting Percy in the RSA at Cheltenham and Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Victory in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park last time out when dropped back to 2m 4f, however, may be the best evidence yet to connections that an intermediate trip is what he wants. The Ryanair looks the Cheltenham race for Monalee then, and he’s prominent in the betting at 5/1.